Doha-based author’s novel inspired by crime in Qatar

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar talks about how two shocking real-life murders provided her with the inspiration for No Place for Women, her latest crime novel set in the Arabian Gulf.

Doha-based author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar. Juliette Sawyer for The National
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The murders of American Jennifer Brown and Briton Lauren ­Patterson, both expatriate teachers, in unrelated cases in 2012 and 2013, shocked Qatar. They also made a big impression on author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, inspiring her to write her latest crime novel, No Place for Women.

“Those two murders are at the heart of it,” Rajakumar says. “That speaks to how rare crime is [in the Arabian Gulf].

“Both murders happened about a year apart and just shocked everyone. People just couldn’t believe that this kind of thing could happen here.”

A South Asian-American who has lived in Doha for more than a decade, in 2013 Rajakumar published what was reportedly the first English-language novel to be set in Qatar, Love Comes Later. It won the Best Indie Book Award for Romance that year.

For No Place for Women, the action shifts to an unnamed city in the Arabian Gulf, for "practical reasons". Taking the real-life murders as the creative spark for her fictional story – Rajakumar says the book is "inspired by real events, in the Hollywood sense" – we are introduced to detective Ali, who is investigating the murder of an ­expatriate. When the burnt remains of a second body turn up in the desert – the same fate that befell Patterson – Ali begins to wonder whether there is a serial killer on the loose.

No Place for Women is the second novel in Rajakumar's self-published Crimes in Arabia series, which was inspired by the novelist's love of Scandinavian crime writers, including Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø.

“It struck me there are a lot of similarities between Scandinavia and the GCC,” she says. “You have small native populations made rich by oil wealth, a promise of utopia, and yet on the fringes of society lots of things are going on that aren’t necessarily presented in the mainstream.”

The first book in the series, The Migrant Report, published last year, explored the dark side of the life of construction labourers, while a third volume will tackle the threat of ISIL extremists.

As with any good crime-novel series, one of the key ingredients is a charismatic cast of recurring characters. In this case they include our hero, Ali, who finds himself thrust into the midst of a hidden, alien expat world beneath the surface of his own country.

One amusing key scene finds him encountering Tinder as part of his investigation, only to discover his cousin is a user of the dating app. “In every novel you have a moment where it all comes together,” says Rajakumar. “In that one scene, you get so much about this place and its peculiarity.”

No Place for Women is Rajakumar's ninth work of fiction, in addition to numerous non-fiction titles. Born in South India, she moved to the United States at the age of 11 and pursued an academic career that led her to Qatar in 2005. A prolific writer, the 37-year-old fits in writing around her work as a teacher and researcher, based at Doha's Education City, and as a mother of two.

“Right now in the world, this is a really violent time for women – you look at the Delhi rape case, or in the United States, where these young, mostly white men are getting off with very light penalties for proven rape,” she says.

“I think it all came together for me – that’s what inspired the title. Often people say, ‘Oh, the Middle East, do you feel safe? It doesn’t really seem safe for ­women’.

“But, on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like the world in ­general is a safe place for ­women.”

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